Eating your opponent is not an exit strategy --Hillary C. after a few
Full Moon Over 1600
by Christopher Cummings ©2007
Three weeks ago: The morning air is clear and cool and the President is in his element. Flanked on all sides by Secret Service and reporters, he snakes his way through the assembled crowd, a living backdrop bought and paid for by his political party. He shakes hands, chit-chats, reiterates campaign promises about flattening taxes and supporting our troops. Suddenly someone shoves a baby at him for a photo op; reflexively, the President hauls the chubby little kid into the air, making a funny face at him. The baby’s eyes flash amber in the morning light as he coos, then clamps down on the President’s nose with a mouthful of gums and two tiny front teeth. The President curses inside as he chuckles for the cameras.
Today:The President huddles in the Cabinet Room with his inner circle and a strange sensation crawls down his nose into his throat; his nostrils flare as he tries to fight it off and focus on the conversation in the room. To his immediate left is the Vice President, with arms crossed over his bulbous stomach and a permanent scowl screwed on his face; then the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, who disagree on nearly everything except their lust for one another which clings to them like stale cigarettes; and the humble Secretary of the Treasury, who sits quietly with his hands folded on his lap. To the President’s right is the Attorney General who stinks of old leather and scented oils; the Secretary of Veterans Affairs who always looks like he is quietly passing gas; the Secretary of Homeland Security, again playing with loose change in his pocket (at least, everyone hopes it is loose change); and the Secretary of Character Assassination, six-foot-one, boyish good looks, and sparkling blue eyes that do not reflect his soul.
The Secretary of State shakes her head. “Listen, there’s no way we’ll push the Flat Tax through Congress with this war going on. The war is killing us in the polls; something has to be done.”
The Secretary of Defense rolls his eyes. “Oh, for Pete’s sake, not this again. Is the violence up over there? Yes, unfortunately. Does it tend to heat up at this time of year? Yes, we know it does. Do I wish that were not the case? You bet I do. Is the war killing us in the polls? Maybe. Does bad polling present a threat to winning the war? Only if Congress cuts our funding. Does any of this affect Operation Flat Tax? Only if you let it.”
The President scratches his neck, trying to settle his nerves. He frowns at his own dread; Sound confident, you pansy; and he says in a low growl, “This is all just a bunch of noise. Let’s start hearing solutions.”
The Secretary of Character Assassination speaks first, and speaks directly to the President. “Leave Congress to me, sir. I can persuade them to stick to their guns.”
“Good,” the President says, frowning, almost overcome by the rank smell quickly filling the room. He glances at the Secretary of Veterans Affairs; nah, too strong, even for him; and nobody else appears to notice it; forget it. To the others: “What else?”
The Secretary of Homeland Security pipes in, “We could raise the terror alert. That’s always good for a bounce in the polls.”
“But they never last,” the Vice President rumbles. “We need to go on the offensive. I’ll take the message to the airwaves and explain why we can’t cut and run.”
“That will help with the base,” the Secretary of State interjects, “but, all due respect, you have no credibility with the majority of the public. If we want to sell this--well, Mr. President. A majority of Americans still believe in your ability to handle homeland security. If we can connect winning the war to passing the Flat Tax and passing the Flat Tax to winning the war, then we have a leg to stand on. Our best shot is to call our network and get you on the air.” She slows down then, her head apparently catching up with her mouth. “There’s just--There’s just one thing--”
She glances around the room, which has just gone very still. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs studies his hands as if they are new to him; the Secretary of Homeland Security examines the American flag draped in the corner of the room, apparently counting each star individually; the Attorney General shuffles through the papers arranged before him; the Secretary of Defense smirks, shaking his head; the Vice President and the Secretary of Character Assassination simply breathe, their eyes betraying nothing.
The President says to her, “Go on.”
“I just have just one reservation--” she says.
“Which is?” the President says.
The Secretary of State opens her mouth, but no words come out.
The Secretary of Defense rolls his eyes and says, “Oh, for Christ’s sake--Mr. President, you’re a goddamn werewolf, and we can’t put a goddamn werewolf on national television.”
The President eyes his Cabinet members as he flexes his hands, his brutal hands, elongated and clawed, perfect for tearing into prey. Brown, prickly hair pokes out from beneath his white collared shirt, pokes out from beneath the cuffs of his navy blazer with the American flag pendant tacked to the left breast. His ears are pointed and flat, and his lips curl back to reveal inhuman canines. The President’s eyes flash amber in the soft light as he speaks. “The jury is still out on what else I might be,” he growls. “But one thing is certain: I am still the goddamn President of these United States. Now, get me Bentley. I want to be on the air tonight, before 24.”
The Oval Office is big and cool, and the President sits in his chair, the picture of calm, watching nervous men and women scurry back and forth, never making eye contact with him or getting too close, adjusting microphones, checking cameras, making sure everything is perfect. Ordinarily this kind of activity would be invisible to him. He isn’t the type to fret about details. He's more of a Big Picture guy. Yet, ever since the whole werewolf thing, he found himself--how to put it?--noticing things, details, odds and ends that usually escaped his notice: his wife’s rosy perfume, the ladybugs on the front lawn, pedestrians in crosswalks.
At ten minutes to show time, Chuck Bentley takes his seat across from the President. Bentley is an eligible bachelor with a hundred dollar haircut and an Emmy-winning smile. He smells of Old Spice and--something, something the President can’t quite place, but doesn’t smell quite right. Something the President had never noticed about the man before. There is nervousness bubbling beneath the cologne, true, but most everyone smells that way to the President these days. No, this is different; sweet and sorrowful.
Bentley smiles broadly at the President; green eyes twinkling yet somehow devoid of warmth; and says, “Thank you for coming, sir.”
The President says, “Thank you for having me.”
“We’re going to lead with the--with the, uh--lycanthropy first, to get that out of the way, if that is all right with you.”
The President is about to say, “I trust your judgment,” which is his typical BS line to people he’s bought and paid for. But something, that smell, kills the words in his mouth. Instead he just nods.
Bentley fiddles with the diamond-encrusted American flag pendant on the left breast of his blue blazer. To the President, this diddling seems to go on forever; finally he says, “You seem a little nervous, Chuck. Take it easy. I won’t bite.”
They both laugh.
The producer gives the signal, then the countdown to the airing begins.
“Welcome to the Bentley Report. I’m your host Chuck Bentley and tonight we’re coming to you live from the White House with our very special guest, the President of the United States. Thank you for doing this, sir.”
The President smiles; a mouth filled with jagged teeth; somehow he makes it seem more charming than startling. “Thanks for having me on.”
“I wanted to ask you tonight about something that concerns a number of my God-fearing, America-loving viewers, and that is your apparent werewolfism, your lycanthropy. Can you tell the American people why you look the way you do, and what this means for the nation?”
“Certainly, Chuck, certainly. I've always felt like one of my jobs is to try to change the tone in Washington, D.C., to bring people together for the common good. No matter how I look on the outside, that continues to be one of my primary responsibilities. Nothing changes that. As for how I got to look this way, the jury is still out, but believe me, we have the best doctors looking into this.”
Bentley nods, then says, “Rumors have sprung up on the Internet, fueled by bloggers, that this is all a ploy to distract the American people from the real issue of the war. How would you respond to that?”
“I would say that kind of cynicism has no place in the American heart.”
Bentley nods. “Before we talk more directly about the war and how we intend to win it, could you talk a little more about your faith, sir? Given what’s happened to you over the last few weeks, how does your faith factor into your life now?”
The President pauses, nearly overcome by the smell; a shard of peppermint wrapped in rosemary, stabbing him between the eyes. “Chuck,” he says, “I think once faith becomes central to who you are, it stays central to who you are. I guess you could say that ever since I started getting hairier, I’ve been praying a little harder.” They both laugh. “I will tell you one thing: I am certainly uplifted by the prayers of our fellow Americans, and I thank them for their support.”
Bentley puts his hand on the President’s forearm as a sign of solidarity and friendship, as they have often staged in the past.
Two things happen simultaneously:
Bentley says, “That’s very moving, sir--”
The President’s claws slash at Bentley’s hand, and the severed hand lands on the floor with a thick, wet sound, leaving behind an angry red stump.
Then, with the cameras still rolling, the President devours Chuck Bentley on live TV.
The First Lady stares at her husband; he is sitting on their marital bed, in the dark, face buried in his gnarled hands. “It’s a nightmare out there,” she says as she sits down in the chaise across from him. She leans in to put her hand on his thigh; reconsiders. They sit in silence until finally she says, “Did you--did you really eat him?”
He doesn’t meet her gaze, still staring at the floor. “Mostly, yes.”
Then: “But, but--why?”
He looks up at her, trying and failing to suppress a smile. “Well, you know; I was feeling a bit peckish.”
She gives him The Look, clearly not amused by his joke.
He takes a breath, trying to marshal the right words. “Things are changing, honey. I mean, obviously I’ve got the hair and the teeth, but there’s other stuff, too. You know, I’ve also started reading the newspaper, which is weird for me. And now--you know how I’ve always been able to sense things, to sense when things are right or wrong? Lately I can, sort of, smell when things are right or wrong.”
She considers his words. “And Chuck … smelled wrong?”
He nods. “When he touched me, it was weird; all the pieces just snapped together. I knew in my gut I had to take him out.” His voice grows soft. “And something inside me; something inside me wanted to consume his rage and his sickness.”
The First Lady shudders. After a moment, she rises from the chaise to sit beside him. “There is one silver lining in all this. They found child pornography in Chuck Bentley’s house and a slew of bizarre instant messages and emails. It wasn’t planted; it’s the real thing. Young people have been coming forward all day with stories of how he abused them.”
The President looks at her blankly. Slowly, a toothy grin spreads over his face. “That’s the best news I’ve heard all day.”
He leans in for a kiss and the First Lady puts her hand to his mouth. “Brush your teeth first, dear,” she says.
Calls are made, and the networks obediently call in Mark Treadwell, the doe-eyed leader of the powerful Christians United for Mainstream Values and Agreeable Taxation. Early the next morning, Treadwell starts making the rounds: “I’ll be the first to admit,” he tells the cameras, twelve times over the next twenty-four hours, “no one likes to see bloodshed, especially on national television, but Bentley was clearly the real monster here, and I think I speak for most red- blooded Americans when I say we are especially impressed with our President’s uncanny ability to exercise his moral authority to right the hideous wrongs that the weak-kneed liberals and the activist judges are afraid to confront. I trust the President to talk from his heart and guide us through these troubled times. If the President says that man needed to be eaten, then by God that man needed to be eaten. If the President says we need a Flat Tax to win the war, then we need a Flat Tax to win the war. Anyone who questions these facts undermines our President, endangers our troops, and imperils our democracy.”
The next day: The New York Times, A1: "President Gets Lift From Emphasis On Religion, Eating Pedophile".
The Secretary of Character Assassination turns to the President and says, “There’s our opening, sir. Time for a televised town hall meeting.”
The President stares at the sea of faces assembled before him. It’s a scripted event in D.C., like usual, with a screened audience. He’s reciting responses to questions, tying the Flat Tax to winning the war, sounding sincere to everyone but himself; bored out of his mind; intrigued by that guy in the balcony. That guy in the blue sweater with the big head and the curly gray hair and that look on his face--that look that says, “You’re beneath me. Shut up.” It reminds the President of his days at college, the way the nerds and the bookworms would always look down at him whenever he opened his mouth. God, he hated those jerks.
The guy stands to take the microphone. The President’s palms start to sweat as he asks the guy his name.
“My name is Bill Foley, sir, and I’m a small business owner; Foley and Randolph; we’re a consulting firm specializing in financial and economic analysis.”
“That’s a helluva introduction, Mr. Foley. Good to meet you, sir; what’s on your mind?”
“Well, sir”--stammering little worm--“I’ve been listening to what you’ve said, and I don’t really have a question. I guess, I just want to understand you. Because I feel, despite your rhetoric, that compassion and common sense have been left far behind during your administration.”
Boos from the crowd. Nondescript men start to move on Bill Foley. The President raises his hand; the men stop; and the President says, “Let him speak.”
Bill Foley nods. “Thank you, sir. I’ve been listening to what everyone in this room is saying. I feel like I’m sitting among the Stepford Wives, with no real debate, no real questioning about anything that’s being said. Everyone here is just soaking it up and spitting it back out, and I’m sitting here feeling like a lamb being led to the slaughter.”
The President nods his head in appreciation, mugs for the camera. “So, I guess, you’re not looking for a consulting gig from me.”
The audience applauds enthusiastically, and not just because of the Applause signs lighting up all over the auditorium. The President holds up his hand again, and says, “Do you have a question?”
The President hears Bill Foley swallow hard, then say, “Yes, Mr. President. I guess I do have a question. Do you ever feel ashamed that you’ve insulated yourself from regular Americans, surrounding yourself with loyalists who may or may not have our country’s best interests at heart? Don’t you feel like you should hunt down the facts and examine issues from all sides, and then come up with a view of your own based on all this different input? Don’t you feel like you owe us that much?”
The President pretends to consider the question for a moment. “First, let me say thank you for the question. I think it takes courage for a business owner to speak his mind in a forum like this”--to someone who could just tear you limb from limb, right now, you pansy ass--“and I think that’s a trait we both share. But I disagree with the roots of your question. Don’t mistake my decisiveness for a lack of curiosity. Ask anyone who has worked with me or for me and they’ll tell you I am a leader who asks tough, probing questions to get at the heart of the matter, and once I set a goal, I do not back down until that goal has been accomplished. That’s who I am at my core and I won’t apologize for that. Next question.”
Applause, then, and the microphone passes to the next person in the crowd. The President cheerfully answers questions about the war and the Flat Tax, but his heart and his eye stay fixed on Bill Foley, who sits through the remainder of the event, looking nonplussed and unimpressed; effete creampuff.
The President obsesses over Bill Foley for the rest of the day. He fantasizes about tearing the prissy little snob to pieces, not just because he’s a prissy little snob. But because the President’s gut says the prissy little snob had a point.
Next day:The President sits with his Cabinet; swears to himself it’s like sitting in an echo chamber. His stomach rumbles, demanding to be fed. As the meeting wears on and on and on, one thought roars in his mind above all others; as the President’s eyes rove about the room, he thinks, You’re all meat. Just meat.
Night:The President is curled at the foot of his bed; wide awake. His wife sleeps silently, blissfully unaware of the feelings that are gnawing at him, forcing him to his feet, forcing him to sneak out of the White House with no one the wiser. It’s a hunger unlike any he has ever known. And it must be fed.
Bill Foley is dreaming of pussycats and chocolates when the crash of breaking glass sends him pin-wheeling him back into reality. He slides out of bed, heart racing; he grabs the baseball bat beside the bed, leaving the lights off as he slowly, carefully, makes his way toward the source of the noise, the kitchen.
The intruder moves faster than Bill Foley can fully register, and when it’s finally over, the intruder is still not satisfied.
The hunger propels the President forward; the hunt continues.
Alyssa Randolph scrambles back, away from the dark shape hulking over her, its massive form framed by the cold blue light of the full moon. Her eyes scan the darkened park for signs of life; it’s very early morning; there’s nothing; no other joggers, no owls, no crickets, nothing. She is half-convinced it is a dream; still, she backs away from dark shape, even as the wolfish creature pads toward her, its eyes gleaming in the moonlight.
The creature growls at her again; its hot breath washes over her exposed skin, and she understands this is not a dream, and she wishes she had worn her sweats and hoodie for this morning’s jog instead of the short-shorts one-piece that, right this minute, makes her feel entirely too vulnerable.
The dark shape growls, “You’re wrong. You and Foley are both wrong. The Flat Tax most certainly will work.”
Alyssa shakes her blonde head rapidly, no. “Mr. President. Bill called me after you left him. He told me what you talked about. And he’s right. Ask any level-headed economist, including me, and we’ll tell you that your proposal basically salutes the idle rich, for no sound economic reason, by exempting unearned income gained as a return on investment.”
The President’s amber eyes narrow. “You’re ignoring the fact that my plan reduces taxes on the poorest Americans.”
“And you’re glossing over the fact that your plan once again puts the squeeze on the middle class to make up the difference. It’s a plan doomed to fail.”
Alyssa Randolph speaks; the President listens; tears some ideas to shreds; together they come up with something new. Eventually the President falls back on his haunches, exhausted. Energized. And feeling, oddly, full.
Bright light streams through the windows, lighting up the Oval Office, forcing the Vice President to squint as he says in a low, accusatory voice, “You. Did. What?”
The President squares his shoulders, sitting upright in his chair. “I don’t like your tone.”
“And I don’t like the fact that you’re going walkabout in the middle of the night, frightening people out of their wits.”
“I was hunting for second opinions; I’m tired of the group-think.”
The Vice President’s upper lip twitches spasmodically. “You’re looking for economic advice from people loitering in parks?’
“From the most respected economists in the neighborhood,” the President cuts in. “Whom we’ve never spoken with. And you know what? They made sense.”
He hears the Vice President take a deep breath; hears whatever they replaced his heart with beating quickly, too quickly.
“Mr. President. You’re talking about rejecting one of our core principles; a campaign promise we made over and over and over again.”
“Things change; that’s life.”
“This is a mistake.”
“It’s a decision to be made, and around here I’m the decider.”
“You’re going to look like a flip-flopper, like you’re admitting to a mistake.”
“Didn’t you hear? Anyone who questions me endangers our troops and imperils our democracy.”
“I’m telling you, this is a mistake--potentially a fatal one--
with the potential to ruin every plan we have in motion.”
“Then you better start re-evaluating those plans, because this is just the start.”
The Vice President says nothing, simply stares. He smells of custard and sewage.
“I’m taking it to the people tomorrow. Better get on message.”
The Vice President balls his hands into fists.
The President unfurls that day’s New York Times and starts to read.
The Vice President sees himself out.
Calls are made.
The next morning, Mark Treadwell rides the media train once again: “From what I hear, he’s chasing down innocent women in parks now; obviously his thirst for blood is out of control.”
Don’t we question the President and undermine his authority at our peril?
“The President deserves our prayers and our respect. But he is sick and he is not infallible and, frankly, the idea of some Abomination deciding the fate of our country should make all of us at least a little uncomfortable.”
The President hurls the remote control at the television, shattering the screen. “Those pricks.”
The First Lady steps out of the bedroom closet, unfazed by her husband’s outburst, holding his outfit for the press conference. “You’re about to make a lot of people very unhappy, honey. Are you sure about this?”
He stares at the smoldering television. “I can feel it in my gut; this is the right thing to do.”
“All right,” she says. “Just, try not to eat anyone, okay? For me?”
The White House media pack gives the President a large berth as he strides to the podium. He takes his spot, looks directly into the camera, and says, “My fellow Americans. We’ve talked in the past about the importance of increasing our economic security by simplifying our tax code and instituting a flat tax. I come before you tonight to say that my goal was right, and my heart was in the right place, but I have recently discovered that the tactics I proposed were rooted in bad information and junk economics, so it’s time to set the record straight.”
At that precise moment, every mouth within the sound of the President’s voice drops open. Flies everywhere rejoice.
“I’ve had the good fortune to chat with a number of experienced, educated folks, really bright people who know their stuff, and one thing has become crystal clear to me. Consumer spending accounts for about seventy percent of our economy, but many consumers are living under the gun, living paycheck-to-paycheck with no chance to start saving for retirement or for their children’s education. We need to fix this.
“Our nation needs a budget that is fiscally responsible, honors middle class values, and gives compassion to those in need and in poverty. I’ve proposed to Congress a bold plan because the need for the plan is urgent. Essentially, my plan focuses on America and her vast resources and ingenuity--”
The President smells the gun oil; hears the cocking of the hammer; he sees the man in the back of the room jump to his feet; dressed in a blue blazer with matching pants; kind of fat; bald; he shouts “Traitor!” as he raises his weapon; two shots are fired; silver bullets.
The President crumples to the floor.
Amid the screams and panic, Secret Service yank the pudgy gunman off his feet, pushing him down to the floor; the gun clatters away; a blanket of bodies smothers him; the gunman cannot escape, cannot even breathe.
Powerful hands yank the gunman to his feet, into the air, spinning him around until he sees his own face reflected in a pair of wolfish eyes.
The gunman’s eyes track down, away from the eyes and the jagged teeth, down to the holes seared in the President’s suit coat … and the bulletproof undergarments peeking out coyly from beneath the ruined clothing.
“Oh crap,” the gunman mewls.
The President snarls. “You said it.”
The intelligence community will eventually connect the gunman, Charlie Parker, to the nephew of the Vice President; college roommates, best friends. The President inhales deeply; he doesn’t need “eventually.” His gut and the gunman’s scent tell him all he needs to know, right now, this minute.
The President turns toward the Vice President, flanked by Secret Service; their eyes connect.
The Vice President blanches.
The President smiles his wolfish smile.
Time to clean out the Cabinet, he thinks. Good thing I’m feeling a bit peckish .
x x x
Mr Cummings is a senior product manager at Lycos.com. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, their two sons, three cats, and a dog. I have no reason to think he's a Democrat--no reason at all. I do have reason to think he's a talented, entertaining story-teller. How about you, readers? -GM